The DHL Stormers and Vodacom Bulls will have their sights set on the big prize of booking places in the inaugural Vodacom United Rugby Championship final when they take the field in what is expected to be thrilling semi-final encounters on Friday and Saturday.
The Vodacom Bulls will cross paths with log-leaders Leinster in the first semi-final in Dublin on Friday at 20h35, while the DHL Stormers will host Ulster in Cape Town in the penultimate match of the season on Saturday at 15h00.
Leinster will enter their match against the Pretoria outfit with confidence after their emphatic 76-14 victory against the Glasgow Warriors in their quarter-final last weekend and with home ground advantage on their side, but they will be wary of the visitors who have only suffered one defeat in their last 10 Vodacom URC matches – which was against their South African counterparts the DHL Stormers in April.
The Vodacom Bulls, however, will also expect a massive challenge against Leinster, who have a sublime win record at home, with only one defeat to their name this season, while they also lead the standings as the top try-scorers at 85 after crossing the chalk an impressive 12 times last week.
The Tshwane side, however, will draw inspiration from the fact that they scored the second-highest number of tries this season (70), while they also had the honour of having three players named in the Vodacom URC Dream Team in Johan Grobbelaar (hooker), Ruan Nortje (lock) and Marcell Coetzee (flank), while Nortje also earned the Ironman Award for the most minutes played in the regular season from all participating teams in the competition.
Leinster won the last outing between the sides in the opening round of the season by 31-3, but with everything to play for on Friday, the match is expected to be a tighter affair.
Vodacom Bulls Director of Rugby Jake White named an unchanged starting XV for the all-important clash, while the replacements bench shows four changes with experienced Springbok hooker, Bismarck du Plessis coming in alongside loosehead prop Simphiwe Matanzima and loose forward, WJ Steenkamp.
Blitzbok speedster Kurt-Lee Arendse, meanwhile, returns among the backs after being sidelined by a finger injury over the past few weeks.
“Leinster are a phenomenal side that are very well-coached and are full of international players, said White.
“You look at their bench and they have players who have more caps for the club than the entire Vodacom Bulls team combined, so we are definitely up against a quality side. It will be a great challenge at the RDS Arena.”
The DHL Stormers will bank on home ground advantage and their impressive form, which shows nine wins a row, to give them an edge over the travelling Ulster when they meet at the DHL Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Both teams won 13 matches this season including their quarter-final outings although the Capetonians also drew two matches, which nudged them ahead of the Irishmen on the log at the end of the competition’s league stages.
The DHL Stormers will enter the match high on confidence after a rewarding week off the field in which they found themselves as the most well-represented team in the Vodacom URC Dream Team with five players in the mix – Evan Roos (No 8), Damian Willemse (centre), Leolin Zas, Seabelo Senatla (both wings) and Warrick Gelant (fullback).
Their first-choice flyhalf Manie Libbok was also named as the competition’s top points scorer (161), while Zas’ 11 tries placed him at the top of the try scorer’s list, experienced loose forward Deon Fourie won the most turnovers (25) in the round robin stages, and Roos was on Thursday named as the Next-Gen Star of the Season.
DHL Stormers coach John Dobson will announce his squad for the clash on Friday, but he was thrilled about the challenge ahead and said: “We are so glad that we get to play our semi-final in front of our faithful supporters. It will be a special day and we want to enjoy all of it. The team are raring to go out there and play the game we love the way we love to play it.”
Vodacom URC semi-finals (SA matches):
Leinster v Vodacom Bulls
Date: Friday, 10 June
Venue: RDS Arena, Dublin
SA Time: 20h35
Referee: Andrea Piardi
DHL Stormers v Ulster
Date: Saturday, 11 June
Venue: DHL Stadium, Cape Town
SA Time: 15h00
Referee: Mike Adamson